"The Woman King" stars Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, and John Boyega. Released on September 16, 2022, the film has a fearless all-female tribe defending their territory.
The film is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, who also directed films such as "Love & Basketball", "The Secret Life of Bees", and "The Old Guard". Many tribes have been formed to protect their lands throughout history. Some were remembered for their bravery and accomplishments, while others were somehow forgotten despite their heroics. One particular group of warriors is part of the latter that hasn't crossed our minds until now. But here's a catch: this tribe is full of 100% girl power. The tribe I'm referring to is the Agojie, an all-female group of warriors who protected the West African kingdom of Dahomey during the 17th to 19th centuries. That's right. Before the Dora Milaje in "Black Panther" became a thing, there was a team of female African warriors that made history more than 200 years ago. So that's one thing to thank for the Dora Milaje's existence. With most of us knowing very little of the Agojie and the success of the MCU movie, It seemed like a perfect opportunity for Hollywood to make a historical epic based on the female tribe. Representation matters, after all. So was the movie able to do the warrior tribe justice? Let's find out.
The story is set in the kingdom of Dahomey in the 1820s. An all-female warrior unit known as the Agojie, led by General Nanisca (Davis), is formed by King Ghezo (Boyega) to protect the kingdom from outside forces. Nanisca is training the next generation of fighters to keep the tribe alive, including Nawi (Mbedu). When the Oyo Empire and a group of slavers led by Santo Ferreira (Tiffin) arrive to destroy their way of life, the tribe must learn to trust one another to fight back and fulfill their destinies.
There's a lot riding on this film regarding its concept. It not only has some big talent on board in front of and behind the camera but also introduces us to a different part of history that we aren't familiar with. So this movie had to accomplish several feats to make itself worth an extraordinary experience at the cineplex, including combining its historical elements with blockbuster storytelling fit for all ages. Films like "Gladiator" and "Braveheart" still stand alongside the cinematic classics for their influences and majesties in filmmaking and production designs, which inspired "The Woman King". So yeah, the film had many expectations to fulfill to become a worthy addition to the historical epic saga of cinema.
I had nothing but high curiosity and excitement for the movie when I first saw its trailer. It had plenty of intense action, as we usually expect from a film dealing with history, and I loved Viola Davis in almost everything she did. Additionally, we have Gina Prince-Bythewood, who's fresh off the heels of directing her first action film, "The Old Guard", two years ago. Long story short, that movie was pretty entertaining. So I was intrigued to see her tackling something as grand as this. Those elements were enough for me to see the film on opening weekend, and I'm happy to say that I was not disappointed with the result.
"The Woman King" is everything you could've expected from an epic film: action-packed, dramatic, rich in scale, and, more importantly, inspiring. It's almost precisely what a female-led blockbuster should be without any unnecessary love triangles. It's more of a good old-fashioned epic that's committed to portraying the aesthetics of the community and displaying a riveting tale of freedom and the warrior within. While it's far from perfect, the movie succeeds in providing a fun experience for audiences and a worthy showcase in historical epic filmmaking.
The film's story does center on Nanisca preparing the new young warriors for a fight between them and the Oyo Empire. However, it also focuses on Nawi, a young woman forced to train with the Agojie after failing to commit to an arranged marriage. There, she embarks on a humane journey to discover what it means to be a warrior while learning more about Nanisca's own past. Regarding Dana Stevens's screenplay, the story is pretty simple to follow and tightly structured despite its two-hour-plus runtime. However, it also isn't afraid to display a careful balance of melodrama and thought-provoking social commentary, resulting in a few emotional and crowd-pleasing moments that are more justified than forced.
The only issue I had with the film was the editing. I encountered a few scenes where the film transitions were too rushed. Some of them include a breathtaking scenery that only last one or two seconds before jumping ahead to the next scene. There's no doubt that the cinematography for specific scenes was undeniably gorgeous. But I wished the film would allow me to admire them a couple of seconds longer before moving to the next sequence. Thankfully, it didn't ruin the main qualities that rise above it.
One of them is the film's cast, which provided a healthy mixture of well-known actors and fresh faces from the African community. The actors shown were all fantastic in their roles, but the biggest highlight would have to be Viola Davis. Davis is one of my favorite people working in Hollywood because of her amazing ability to inject fearlessness and emotion into her characters onscreen. You can put her in almost any movie, and she'll knock the house down with no sweat. Her performance as General Nanisca further proves my theory, with Davis manifesting Nanisca's stern and vulnerable personality to perfection. She's definitely someone to keep an eye on during awards season. Then there's Thuso Mbedu, who's making her big-screen debut following her successful role in the drama series, "The Underground Railroad". She also delivered a stunning performance as Nawi and provided the ability to carry the movie whenever Davis was absent. I also enjoyed Lashana Lynch's Izogie for her mixture of drama and comedy, and I'm still proud that John Boyega is getting more work outside of "Star Wars". His performance as King Ghezo was also a treat to witness.
Another aspect I enjoyed was the production design. Everything in the film, including the costumes, Terence Blanchard's score, and settings, successfully reflects the aesthetics of Dahomey and the rest of the communities presented. Unfortunately, it doesn't match the uniqueness that "Black Panther" offered. However, it is an unfair comparison since "Black Panther" is a fictional superhero movie, and "The Woman King" is more historical. However, from a historical perspective, the settings and designs were magnificent in transporting audiences into the film's world. The fight sequences were also crowd-pleasing. Although the movie has more drama than action, the scenes with the Agojie benefited well from the fantastic choreography and Prince-Bythewood's direction. Some sequences may have been unfocused due to the film's PG-13 rating, but they still pack a satisfying punch in the entertainment value without being too far-fetched.
Overall, "The Woman King" is an inspiring and highly entertaining action epic that showcases the Agojie in an earnest and respectable light. It's also a fall blockbuster that represents the true queens of African-American filmmaking: Viola Davis for delivering one of her best performances of her career and Gina Prince-Bythewood for providing compelling female empowerment in the drama and action aspects. Despite some minor issues with the editing, the movie is as fearless and powerful as the all-female tribe presented onscreen, thanks to its cast, riveting storytelling, and production designs. This is definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of the director's previous works and the historical epics that came before it.